Evangelium Luk 1:1–4; 4:14–21.
We begin today our year’s cycle of Sunday readings based on the Gospel of Luke.
Alone of the Gospel writers, St. Luke was not a Jew, and not an eyewitness of the events he records. He is identified as the author also of the Acts of the Apostles, and the physician who was St. Paul’s faithful companion. His Gospel is obviously related to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark in various ways, but as he makes clear in his little preface, it is also very much his own work, and marked by his own style and interests.
It’s the Gospel which, beyond all the others, focuses on the gentleness and mercy of Jesus; his love for sinners, and for the poor and afflicted. So it’s Luke alone who records for us the parables of the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan, and Jesus’ words of comfort to the dying thief. Luke is also the Gospel, beyond all the others, of the Holy Spirit. So he speaks a great deal about prayer, about joy in God, and gratitude for his gifts. Luke is also the Gospel of Our Lady, and it’s he who gives us the Hail Mary, and the Magnificat.
In the 2 extracts from his Gospel which we have just heard, I’d like to pick out 3 themes, all of which are very dear to Luke.
First of all, there’s the idea that everything Jesus said and did was a fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures. Already the passage from Isaiah Jesus reads out contains what Luke will devote his Gospel to describing: Jesus goes about teaching, preaching the good news, healing, and casting out devils. He moves among the poor, the outcast, the sick and the blind, and he brings them all healing and hope and life. But as we’ll hear in next week’s Gospel, the people who should have been ready to accept him as their promised Messiah in fact refused to do so. Eventually they succeeded in having him killed. But in doing that they only succeeded in fulfilling their own scriptures to perfection, and causing God’s saving plan for the salvation of all of us to be perfectly accomplished.
One moral of all that for us is that we should read and know the Old Testament. If we don’t, we really can’t understand the New Testament at all. One of the early heretics of the Church was a man called Marcion, who rejected the OT entirely, and wanted to restrict the NT to selections, largely from Luke and Paul, that seemed to fit his ideas of what God should be like. Perhaps that’s a temptation that will never entirely leave us – but the Church very firmly rejects it. Our religion is based not on the products of our own imagination, but on God’s revelation of Himself, and that is contained above all in the Holy Scriptures of the Old & NT.
The second theme I want to pick out from today’s Gospel is the insistence that what Luke tells us is the truth. As he tells Theophilus, the teaching he gives is “well founded”. We believe this, and continue to proclaim it, with total confidence.
Plenty of people nowadays want us to think that it actually isn’t true. A lot of the effort of Bible scholarship of the last 200 years seems to have been directed towards shaking people’s confidence in the historical truth of the Gospels. Then we have light weight nonsense like the Da Vinci code, which unfortunately has the effect of playing on the credulity of quite a few people, and turning them away from the Christian message of salvation; or there’s the recent attack by Richard Dawkins on the whole idea of the existence of God.